Parliament wants to protect employees’ fundamental right to disconnect from work and not to be reachable outside working hours.
Digital tools have increased efficiency and flexibility for employers and employees, but also created a constantly on-call culture, with employees being easily reachable anytime and anywhere, including outside working hours. Technology has made teleworking possible, while the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns have made it widespread.
Teleworking blurs the distinction between private and professional
Although teleworking has saved jobs and enabled many businesses to survive the corona crisis, it has also blurred the distinction between work and private life. Many people are having to work outside their regular working hours, worsening their work-life balance.
People who regularly telework are more than twice as likely to work more than the maximum working hours set down in the EU's working time directive than those who don’t.
- Maximum 48 working hours per week
- Minimum 11 consecutive hours of daily rest
- At least four weeks paid annual leave per year
Constant connectivity can lead to health issues
Rest is essential for people's wellbeing and constant connectivity to work has consequences on health. Sitting too long in front of the screen and working too much reduces concentration, causes cognitive and emotional overload and can lead to headaches, eye strain, fatigue, sleep deprivation, anxiety or burnout. In addition, a static posture and repetitive movements can cause muscle strain and musculoskeletal disorders, especially in working environments that don’t meet ergonomic standards.
Parliament calls for new EU law
The right to disconnect is not defined in EU law. Parliament wants to change that. On 21 January 2021 it called on the Commission to come up with a law allowing employees to disconnect from work during non-work hours without consequences and setting minimum standards for remote work.
Parliament noted that interruptions to non-working time and the extension of working hours can increase the risk of unremunerated overtime, can have a negative impact on health, work-life balance and rest from work; and called for the following measures:
- Employers should not require workers to be available outside their working time and co-workers should refrain from contacting colleagues for work purposes
- EU countries should ensure that workers who invoke their right to disconnect are protected from victimisation and other repercussions and that there are mechanisms in place to deal with complaints or breaches of the right to disconnect
- Remote professional learning and training activities must be counted as work activity and must not take place during overtime or days off without adequate compensation
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